From car to care to home

Johns Creek HospitalSocial worker Cathy Crumrine entered Helms's life at perhaps its lowest point. In looking for ways to address his problems, she helped reunite family in the process. Crumrine is pictured with hospitalist Sukit Chaiyachati.

When his vertigo became unbearable, Steve Helms drove himself to the emergency room at Emory Johns Creek Hospital.

He seemed embarrassed to mention how debilitating his dizziness had become in recent weeks. With no insurance, he had delayed seeking care, until he no longer could.

Shortly after he was admitted, clinicians diagnosed kidney cancer, and social worker Catherine Crumrine entered Helms's life. Bit by bit, he told her about the emotional problems that had cost him his teaching job and marriage, the early-retirement payments that barely covered food, his efforts to find part-time jobs, and his irregular visits to a sliding-fee health clinic. He was living in his Ford—all that remained of a once comfortable middle-class existence. Being in the hospital was a relief.

Then, after a month, it was time to leave. But where would he go? Crumrine had tried to connect Helms to every possible resource she could find. She had gotten him accepted for low-cost Section 8 housing, but nothing was yet available. She had arranged for Medicare, but the beginning date was more than a year away. His request for disability funding was still under review, as was his food stamp application.

When Crumrine asked about family, he shook his head. He didn't want to cause them any more trouble. Finally, he agreed she could call a younger brother he hadn't had contact with in several years. Two days later, the brother called back. Whatever had happened in the past, family won out. Helms could live with the brother and his wife until he got back on his feet.

They were not responsible for his medical costs, however. Emory Johns Creek wrote off more than $100,000 in charges for the lengthy hospitalization. The hospital also covered Helms's medicines for his first month post-hospitalization. With help from HUGS, a fund established to help with situations like this, the hospital also paid for visits from a home health nurse.

Six months later, Helms is doing remarkably well, thanks to the support provided by the hospital and the family he has regained.